When I was a child, I looked at my parents (and pretty much every grown-up) and thought they had it all together. Nothing seemed to take my parents by surprise — they knew how to do all the important life skills and, though I didn’t always like it, they knew what was best for me.
Then I became a parent. I waited in the hospital recovery room for when that magical feeling of having it all together would kick in only to realize that it never would. I looked back at my own parents and all those other grown-ups and thought, “How on earth did you make parenting look so easy and natural?”
Since I became a mother, experiencing the joys and pains of labor and delivery at age 24, I began to spend Christmas Eve in awe of how little teenage virgin Mary might have felt. Real childbirth entails so much more than what is so beautifully painted on the covers of our Christmas cards — calm and composed Mary in her clean robes, holding a quiet baby.
No, childbirth comes with extreme discomfort. All the Expectant Mothers workshops and books in the world cannot fully prepare you for the messy and vulnerable experience of bringing a baby into the world — and little Mary did not have those. She must have felt fear as she experienced the pain of childbirth mixed with the anxiety of having nowhere to stay and the awkwardness of having her betrothed Joseph attend her at this extremely vulnerable time. Not to mention the burden of shame she may have been carrying — the shame that those who didn’t believe her story may have placed on her throughout her pregnancy.
All of this was part of God’s plan. But just because it was part of God’s plan doesn’t mean it would be easy.
Speaking as a mother, cradling her newborn in her arms, I will tell you that all the pain and all the emotions were worth it in the end because the pain I felt was the only way to bring about the birth of my children. I’m sure Mary would say the same. This is a pain that brings forth life.
Many of little Mary’s experiences anticipate what her son would experience some 30 years later. Jesus also experienced fear, pain, shame and humiliation as he willingly sacrificed the breaking of his own body to give us life. All of this was part of God’s plan. But just because it was part of God’s plan doesn’t mean it would be easy. His pain brought forth our life.
As I spend my third Christmas Eve with a babe in my belly, I reflect on the fear, pain, shame and humiliation of childbirth, and yet I’m grateful for the privilege of sharing in the experience of allowing my body to be broken to give someone else life, in just a shadow of the way my Savior did.